Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Repetition in music

How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why?

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.

Lesson by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, animation by Andrew Zimbelman.

1 comment:

Kathy Smart said...

The Mere Exposure Effect is that people tend to prefer to things they have heard before. It is uniquely prevalent in music.

People who heard digitally altered music which included repetition found it
• more enjoyable
• more interesting
• more likely to have been composed by a human artist
and preferred it to music composed by top composers.

Musical repetition is deeply compelling. Repetition connects each bit of music irresistibly to the music which follows it. Our mind unconsciously sings along. When people hear a segment of music repeated, they are more likely to move or tap along to it. Repetition invites us into music as imaginative participants rather than as passive listeners.

Listeners shift their attention at each repetition, focusing on different aspects of the sound on each new listen, e.g noticing melody, then guitar. This also happens with language. Language Satiation is repeating a word ad nauseum to make people stop focusing on what the word means and instead focus on the sounds, opening up new worlds of sound not accessible on the first hearing.

The Speech To Song illusion shows how simply repeating a sentence a number of times shifts listeners’ attention to the pitch and temporal aspects of the sound, so that the repeated spoken language sounds like it is being sung. A similar things happen with random pieces of sound. If heard repeatedly, these are considered more musical.

Repetition gives rise to an orientation to sound which we think of as distinctly musical, where we engage imaginatively with the note about to happen. We are susceptible to musical ‘ear worms’ where segments of music burrow into our head and play again and again.

Critics find repetitiveness childish and regressive but it is a key feature of the kind of experience we think of as musical.